Lincoln High School Board to consider leaving Central State Eight Conference

Send a link to a friend  Share

[December 18, 2015]  LINCOLN - On Wednesday of this week, Lincoln Community High School Unit 404 Superintendent Robert Bagby and School Board President Jim Mammen hosted two ‘Coffee with the Superintendent” sessions. The meetings were held at 7 a.m. and again at 7 p.m. at the Railsplitter Conference Center on Pulaski Street in Lincoln. Both sessions were very well attended, due primarily to the topic that was to be discussed.

Bagby began each session, introducing the topic in the open forum style meeting. The high school, which currently belongs to the Central State Eight Conference has been invited to join three other conferences: the Big Twelve, Corn Belt, and Apollo.

Bagby reviewed quickly that the board is considering making this switch because they want the students to have greater opportunities that can be offered by some of these other conferences. When thinking about a conference, most will consider that belonging to a conference is about competitive sports. While the CS8 focuses much attention on sports, they lack in other areas, Bagby said. He said the school and the board needed to consider all of the students at LCHS and look into placing the school with a conference that is also strong in the academic fields.

He ran down some of the considerations for each conference. The Big 12, geographically, contains schools in an area between Danville and Peoria. The membership in that conference is primarily large schools with enrollments that reach as high as 2,000 students.

LCHS, with an enrollment of just under 800 would be the smallest school in that conference if they joined. On the other hand, the Corn Belt Conference consists of smaller enrollment schools, and LCHS would be the highest enrollment school in that conference. In the Apollo, LCHS would be the third largest school in the conference.

Schools in the Big Twelve: Bloomington High School, Centennial High, Champaign, Champaign Central, Danville High, Manual High, Peoria; Normal Community High, Normal Community West, Peoria Central, Peoria Notre Dame, Richwoods High, Peoria; and Urbana High School.

In the Apollo: Charleston, Effingham, Mount Zion, Salem, Mattoon, and Taylorville.

In the Corn Belt: Central Catholic, Bloomington; Eureka, Illinois Valley, Chillicothe, Mahomet-Seymour, Olympia, Stanford, Pontiac Township, Pontiac, Prairie Central, Fairbury, and University High, Normal.

While there are three conferences that have issued invitations, it appeared through the discussions held on Wednesday night that the Big 12 Conference is not being considered, due primarily to the size of the other schools in the conference.

Bagby said that the board was trying to look at these three invitations from all angles, including academic, sports, participating school sizes, and distances that would have to be traveled for competitive events. He noted that travel was a very big concern, as with the Corn Belt and the Apollo, some of the travel requirements would exceed 100 to 125 miles. The school board has set a limit on the amount of travel time that is permitted on a school night. Because of this, competitions of any kind that could normally take place on Monday through Thursday would have to be scheduled as a Friday or Saturday event in some cases.

It was noted that for some of the events, they could take place if students were in the athletic Physical Education classes that take up the last hour of the school day. The Athletic P.E. would allow a team to leave school earlier to help cover some of that long travel time.

Bagby reminded attendees on Wednesday evening that the consideration for changing conferences was not solely about sports. He said that other conferences offered more academic competitions, and that was what was making them attractive to the LCHS board. Asked to expand on the comment, he noted that the other conferences offer competitive music such as concert and choir, and also offer competitive art.

He said that schools in the Apollo Conference were just getting started in dual credit program that includes offering an Associate Degree. This falls right in line with the strides that LCHS is making with dual high school/college credit programs.

Bagby told the group that the board is seeking to gain perspective for this decision not just among themselves, but are also conducting conversations with parents, such as at the coffee; and with students and teachers. He said that there had been meetings held at the school on Wednesday with the current freshman and sophomore classes. He explained that if the move does take place, it will go into effect in the 2017-18 school year. Because of this, the current sophomores, who will be seniors then, and the freshmen who will be juniors are the only two current classes that will be impacted.

He said that the meetings with the students had been productive. The students had asked well thought-out important questions. He said some had come into the meeting with a clear opposition to the change. Of those, he said he believed a portion left with a different opinion. He noted that others had come into the meeting with a clear desire to make the change.

To continue the process, Bagby said that meetings would be held on Thursday with the teaching staff to get their take on what is best for the school and the students.

While the focus always appears to be on sports inside the conferences, Bagby reiterated that the LCHS board’s interest is in serving the entire enrollment. He also noted that the board has said it would not leave CS8 for the sake of one sport, nor would it stay with CS8 for the sake of one sport.

In the open forum format, parents asked questions as they came to mind. On Wednesday evening, one parent asked if there was any fear that kids would be pulled away from the Lincoln High School if the board moves away from CS8. She wondered if families would move from Lincoln, for the sake of attending a CS8 school.

Bagby said that was yet to be seen, but yes it was a possibility, or they could just drop out of a particular sport. He said that in the student meetings on Wednesday, he heard some say they would welcome the opportunity to compete with more ‘like-sized’ schools.

The question was asked if in considering travel time, was there a possibility of holding various meets in neutral locations. Bagby said that has been discussed, and it could be a possibility

He said there were other alternatives as well. He offered as an example that in the Apollo Conference many of the baseball and softball games are held as doubleheaders on the same day. Doing this gets in two games for one amount of travel time. In this same scenario, he said that the schools alternate who has to travel, so, in one school year, Lincoln might be the away team, and in the next year the home team.

The questions were asked if this same scenario would work between freshman and varsity football. Bagby said that too has been discussed.

Talking strictly about sports, Bagby was asked if colleges gave weight to what conference a student played in when considering sports scholarships. The head coach for the basketball team, Neal Alexander; and head coach for the baseball program, Pat Hake, were on hand Wednesday evening. Bagby deferred the question to the two coaches. Alexander said in his opinion, yes, that does play into college choices. Hake added to the comment saying that colleges know that CS8 athletes are very well prepared for competitive sports.

Bagby was asked if the board already had a preference as to if they should leave CS8, and if so go to where. Bagby said they did not. Mammen added later that this is a very new conversation for the board, and that much of the information being shared with parents and students on Wednesday was being heard by the board for the first time also.

[to top of second column]

A parent asked about the enrollment figures for LCHS, were they on a downward trend. Early in the evening, Bagby had noted that the 2016-17 freshman enrollment would be approximately 220 students. He said that would be the smallest enrollment to date of freshmen. In response to this question, he said, yes, enrollment is going to continue in a downward motion as far as he can see. He projected that the enrollment would drop to as low as 750 students within the next few years.

The question was then asked if that number was dropping because LCHS was not as academic as other schools.

While the CS8 conference doesn’t focus as much on academics. LCHS as a school does. Bagby told the group that the high school’s average ACT scores were a full two points above the state average, showing that academics are a priority at the school. He also noted that there are students coming to LCHS from other areas specifically for the LTEC program that is doing an outstanding job. In addition, he said that the LCHS teachers are some of the very best around. He said that the school has dedicated teachers who are doing “a phenomenal job” and he’s quite proud of the teachers and the academics at the school.

Bagby went on to say that not only are the programs now good, the school is constantly looking at what it can add to make the school better and more attractive to students. He concluded, “I’m proud of what we accomplish on a daily basis.”

One black spot at the high school is its football performance over the last several years. While the football team has found itself with consecutive losses throughout the last few full seasons, the high school basketball program is one of the top teams in the conference, with a tight and hard run for a state championship year before last, another great season last year, and a number two ranking early in the program this year.

One parent asked why LCHS was being invited to join these other conferences. He singled out the football program and asked, “Do they want us so they can beat us?” The parent said that if the school was being invited so the new conference schools could beat the football team, then why bother, the team could be beaten consistently a lot closer to home.

The football program had also been discussed at the morning session. There guest John Andrews observed that football starts the school year. What happens in that season has an impact that carries over the rest of the year. He thought that if changing conferences would afford opportunities to win a few games that enthusiasm would carry over to the rest of the year.

Bagby said that he heard that when Taylorville joined the Apollo Conference, they started winning a few games. It had a profound impact lifting morale and school spirit.

Bagby also added Wednesday morning that the girls’ basketball program is being rebuilt and this year's team is improving.

The Wednesday night question/comment went somewhat un-answered, though Bagby did talk about what the board had tried to do about the football program. He said that the CS8 had been approached and asked if LCHS could exempt itself from the football competition, and they were told that they could not. He said then the question was, “Could LCHS forfeit its football games?” and they were told that if they forfeit one sport, they forfeit all sports. So, LCHS has been more or less locked into a football program by the conference. He said another stumbling block the school has encountered in football was with the Illinois High School Association. He noted that there were some students at Mount Pulaski High School who would like to play football with LCHS. LCHS had asked the IHSA for a co-op between the two schools, and it was denied.

Of the students in attendance Wednesday night, one inquired about the agriculture programs at the other conferences. Bagby said that he knew that Taylorville (Apollo) has an outstanding agriculture program.

Questions from parents went back to scholarships, as one parent wondered how many students at LCHS received scholarships. Bagby said that to narrow the answer he could say that the LCHS Foundation had given out $90,000 in scholarships and the Hertzfeldt scholarships were over $130 thousand.

The parents wanted to know how many college sourced scholarships had been given out. Bagby said he didn’t have figures on that because those numbers weren’t incorporated into his records because it would throw the figure out of skew.

Another guest in the room attempted to clarify the question further asking how many students were getting full ride scholarships to major universities, and, does belonging to a specific conference have an impact on those scholarships?

Bagby and Coaches Alexander and Hake agreed that very few if any full ride scholarships are given out for sports. One person in the audience said they knew of only one. Bagby expanded on the answer saying those full-ride scholarships come more from an academic standpoint, and the scholarships are given based on academic criteria - test scores, grade point averages, class rankings, but not necessarily according to the conference membership.

Another follow-up question was, “Are certain conferences scouted more than others?” The answer was somewhat vague but appeared that perhaps so.

However, comments from one parent, Coach Alexander and Coach Hake ALL indicated that it doesn’t matter what school or conference a student is in, if he or she has a special talent, the scouts will find him or her.

Among the last questions of the evening asked was if LCHS changes conferences and lives to regret it, are they locked-in?

The basic answer was, no. But, there are a few catches. A school can seek to join another conference and be turned down. On the other hand, when a school is invited by a conference to join, then their membership is secured. To that end, if Lincoln leaves CS8, then wants back in, the CS8 may very well say no, though they could say yes.

On Wednesday night, Bagby and Mammen both indicated the board had a very difficult and important decision to make. Bagby said he was preparing lists of pros and cons to present to the board at the meeting to be held on Monday, December 21st. He is seeking as much input as he can get from parents, students, and staff.

Members of the LCHS Board of Education are President Jim Mammen, Vice-President Darrell Vermeire; Andi Hake, secretary; Mark Allen, Jill Awe and Marsha Dahl. Contact information for the board members may be found at the school website

The board will meet on Monday, December 21st, at 7 p.m. in the Instructional Materials Center located on the second floor at the high school. Discussion on the change of conference will continue Monday, and a vote may be taken. The board has until May of 2016 to deliver a decision.

[Nila Smith and Jan Youngquist]

Back to top